Winter solstice marks the sun's return

Friday December 21, 2012

The winter solstice occurred at 6:12 this morning. At that moment our planet was at the point in its orbit where the North Pole was tilted furthest away from the sun.

As we see it, our star’s journey south is completed, and we will witness the sun’s slow return.

Begin by pausing to observe the shallow arc our star traces in the sky today as it travels from far south of east to far south of west. Sunrise is at 7:19 this morning and sunset will be at 4:24 this afternoon, giving us the shortest day of the year. There will be 9 hours 5 minutes of daylight, 14 hours 55 minutes of darkness.

Solstice derives from the Latin solstitium: sol = sun and stitium = standing or stoppage, which translates to "sun stands still."

Since about Dec. 10, the sun’s arc has been flat and short. It will be within 5 minutes of today’s shortest span until Jan. 2. During this time frame day length is 9 hours 10 minutes or less. After this period the sun’s movement north is perceptible.

The latest sunrises of the year will be 7:22 a.m. from Dec. 29 through Jan. 9. The earliest sunsets, 4:21 p.m., occurred from Dec. 5 -12. Sundown is now almost a minute later everyday. Caution: keep your eyes safe from harm; never ever look directly at the sun.

As we mark the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it is customary to celebrate the return of the light. Concluding his passionate poem, Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley penned, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

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